Withdrawing from the project is intended to strengthen the PSA's supervision of the lifeboat position and to highlight the role of the individual operator and shipowner, who is legally responsible for conducting acceptable operations.
The PSA's experience with the OLF's lifeboat project is that the flow of information reaching the authority has been inadequate.
By stepping down from its observer role, the authority wants to clarify its regulatory role and ensure immediate access to all relevant information concerning the lifeboats. Work on this issue will continue to have top priority.
On June 21, 2005, a skid-type freefall lifeboat was damaged during a planned test on the Statoil-operated Veslefrikk B platform in the Norwegian North Sea.
That incident prompted a number of immediate measures and restrictions concerning the use of this and similar lifeboat models. As a result, a number of installations had to reduce their crewing and activity.
Under pressure from the PSA, the OLF established a lifeboat project in September 2005. The authority has participated in this work as an observer, and has received information in accordance with that status.
The PSA has also had an agreement with the OLF that it, as the regulator, would be kept continuously briefed as new knowledge became available.
Following developments in recent weeks, however, the PSA has concluded that the flow of information is not good enough in light of its regulatory role and responsibility.
However, the PSA takes the view that the project has worked well and thoroughly on identifying weaknesses in and knowledge gaps about freefall lifeboats on the Norwegian continental shelf.
Changes to regulations
Experience from extensive testing of freefall lifeboats has identified weaknesses and a lack of clarity in the PSA's regulations.
The norm set by the Norwegian Maritime Directorate (NMD) regulations of 11 April 2003 is inadequate for the use of such craft in petroleum activities on the NCS.
Reference to the recommended norm has accordingly been eliminated from the Norwegian regulations with effect from today. This amendment has been conveyed in the form of an identical letter sent to the industry.
The consequence of the change is that the industry must now document in other ways that personnel on the installations can be evacuated quickly and effectively to a safe area in all weather conditions.
This requirement is not new. Section 43 of the facilities regulations on means of evacuation sets functional requirements for all use of freefall lifeboats on the NCS - but this is now longer amplified by reference to maritime regulations.
The NMD is continuing its work on amendments to the maritime regulations, and the PSA is participating actively in this process.
In addition, the PSA has asked the OLF to prepare a new industry standard for lifeboats. This forms part of the OLF's mandate for the lifeboat project, but the PSA has yet to receive documentation on or descriptions of such a standardization project. It has requested a timetable for this work on several occasions.
Operators are responsible
An important aspect of the precautionary principle is that each operator and/or shipowner immediately adopts the necessary compensatory measures when weaknesses are exposed in lifeboats.
The precautionary principle also requires that action must be assessed - and possibly initiated - if uncertainty arise over the use of the lifeboats in specific wind and wave conditions.
Health, safety and environmental regulations for the petroleum activity are functionally-based. This means that they specify what level of safety is to be attained, but not how.
Freefall lifeboats have always been covered by these functional requirements. The fact that they have been certified in accordance with maritime regulations does not absolve the operator or shipowner from responsibility.
Vessel owners have an overall responsibility for ensuring that equipment adopted is suitable for its purpose and meets the PSA's requirements - regardless of the test criteria described.
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